It was supposed to be an easy trail, not more than a half hour's hike up a gently rising hill. But hatless under a mid-afternoon August sun, and in most unsensible shoes, I was hard-pressed to maintain some modicum of composure as my husband and a fellow-hiker discussed the science of trees' roots, and the surprisingly large variety of flora not native to N.Y. State. Being totally untrained in the language of botany, I tuned out as they discussed the likelihood of plant life displaced from its native habitat to foreign soils to take root and even thrive, and its effect on the landscape in which it was newly found. So that evening when I got the call from a former student newly arrived back home from her three years of living abroad with her Israeli husband, I thought about the afternoon's hike.

We arranged to meet the following week.

I walked into the room; they sat next to each other in matching chairs. He, the classic tall, dark and handsome; the darkest, most compelling brown eyes under a heavy unibrow...kippah top and center, with the distinctive Nahal marking, shoulders squared, sitting upright, strong and firm. She, tight curls almost helmet-like around her face, blue-eyed ...eyelids swollen from recent weeping, the redness accentuating the almost albino transparency of her hair and skin. Sitting straight and firm, yet the teary eyes bespoke a feeling of defeat. But the smile on both their faces upon greeting me was real. Something, beneath the heavy appearance of it all, seemed light.Notwithstanding whatever weight they carried, they were prepared to do combat against their sea of troubles, ready to oppose them, and to attain their shared goal...simple joy.

She'd been born and raised in Manhattan and upon finishing high school decided on a year of study in Israel. He'd been born and raised in Morocco; shortly before his bar mitzvah his family had made aliyah to the Holy Land where he'd completed his schooling and the requisite army service. They met in the Tachane Merkazit internet cafe. She, chatting with friends back home; he trying to send non-classified army information to his cousins back home.

Her computer crashed, he helped her to get it working again...she thanked him by paying for his cappuccino and the rest, as they say, is history. Over impassioned protest from both families - each concerned the prospective in-law would never be able to acclimate to its family culture - they married. Not without many, many hours of consultation with friends and rabbis, mentors and counselors and relatives. They didn't do this blindly - young as they were, they had the maturity to recognize the myriad obstacles they would encounter. But when all was said, argued and cried over, they were certain of their soul connection, and decided to marry.

Neither family having the means to provide financial support - even had they chosen to do so - she moved with him into the small complex in the north of Israel where his family, and extended family, lived. A culture very alien to her American upbringing. He made a commitment to additional military training and service, which would further his college degree; she pursued a course in civil mediation. He was intent on establishing and maintaining secure and firm borders. She, trained in civil mediation, worked with underprivileged women to help them better their status, undeterred by stubborn borders of social mores. The women in her family were strong and confident; a mother and two aunts, as well as two elder sisters all trained professionals. The women in his family were strong and confident; his mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters and sisters-in-law were committed to creating comfortable homes.

She grew up to the sounds and sights of women studying, teaching, arguing law and pedagogy; each morning's dawn saw the women in his family preparing the lavish breakfast for their men...the beginning of their day's work of cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping. She, American sensibilities front and center, was appalled at their apparent submissiveness to their men folk, and was brought to tears when her husband - sensitive and considerate as he was - asked one morning what's for dinner. She tried to 'fit in'...he so wanted her to like and be liked by his family, but the ceaseless conversations about meals and cosmetics and house related concerns were just too much for her. She saw herself as the female knight in shining armor come to this country to rally its underprivileged women to greater empowerment and success. Discussing menus and skin care was just way beneath her.

He sat rigid as she spoke. He did love her, and he most certainly held in high regard her ideals, and her work. But this was his family. And they were who brought him to where he was...he didn't spring full-grown from nowhere. His values, his perspectives, his appreciation of life and his wife...all were nurtured in the bosom of his family. How could she have so little regard for them? She clearly loved him; tears streaming as he spoke gave way occasionally to sobs. No matter, no matter she said. I don't want to live without him, but I can't live with his family. We can't afford to live away from them, he reminded her. At least not yet.

The small thicket of mint we'd found on yesterday's hike now provided the room's fragrance as I poured some liquid comfort from a pot of fresh mint tea. My mother would rub the leaves on my forehead, he said, to chase away bad dreams. And he looked at her. And smiled at her.

I thought about the beautiful bushes we'd passed...about how they were not native to this soil. About how, my husband explained, embedded among the natives, they provided contrast and nourishment...about how the roots would feed off each other, providing each the other's needs. About how their surrounding culture served to both enhance and nurture them; how they provided the brilliant relief on the backdrop of sameness.

You have to be who you are, I told her. You can't be who you're not. And...who you are is someone who creates a comfortable place for herself in foreign environments...witness the way in which you've grown and developed outside of your family and community milieu. Who you are is someone who engages and becomes engaged in the group you're with. Without compromising your core values, you are someone who's not deterred by borders...someone for whom some borders become fluid. That's why the two of you are so powerful together...where he cannot see moving outside a clearly defined parameter, you look past it to the horizon....

We proceeded to discuss how they could create their personal space within the culture of his family, how they, together, could expand some perimeters...They agreed, both, that it wouldn't be easy, that they would seek wise counsel at every turn, but they were determined.

Almost summertime again, and we were organizing the previous summer's slides. And there it was, a beautiful photograph of the patch of mint at the top of the trail. In the mail that same day arrived a letter with a small packet.

I've learned to cook, she writes, and in the sorority of the kitchen as we dice and mince, we talk about how women's rights have come a long way...and have yet a long way to go. We blanch almonds together, and argue the merits of the newly emerging mentors for women's rights. And here, enclosed, are some pomegranate seeds for you. If you're not afraid of learning new ways, they'll do great in your Brooklyn yard.